Camilla Long and Toby Young in discussion on Ken Loach’s recent film pic.twitter.com/q4riBXmfEP
— Clee (@jmsclee) October 25, 2016
I was delighted to see some vituperative attacks on Ken Loach, a sure sign that the 80 year-old had once again rattled his target in exactly the way he wished. His magnificently angry “I, Daniel Blake” is not a faultless film, performances range from sensational to stilted and the well researched facts underpinning the story are not always best served by the writing. Perversely though, criticism has focused on the film’s bias – as if any film could ever be anything but an expression of a personal view. Loach has been attacked as if he’d released a political manifesto but his film never stops being a work of art and art works to different rules.
Loach is partly to blame as his style encourages some semiotic confusion. His long lensed observation of a mix of actors and non-actors makes the viewer more aware of the artifice, yet rather than shattering the illusion of reality, the non-actors’ acute awareness of the camera makes the whole thing feel more “real”. But screen reality can never escape inverted comas. A film is never real and whilst few are as adept as Loach in constructing an evocation of reality, the final work is clearly a fiction. The clue is in the opening titles and closing credits. Loach never hides that he is telling a story or seeks to conceal the personal fury that drives it.
Art is always a mirror, never a window, it is inescapably personal. Ken Loach cannot make a film that is not made by Ken Loach. Art is biased and cannot look outward without peering inwards. The difference between artist and politician is that the artist lets you know that they are there, there’s no pretence that the work is not authored. Unlike politicians, artists tell you that they are lying.
Last month also saw the release of another angry and deeply political film, Adam Curtis’ “Hypernormalisation”. Curtis is also an artist who likes to seem to be a politician. Much of the thesis presented in his eloquent video essay comes in didactic voice over. This is often criticised for sounding authoritative, a bizarre complaint that again confuses the viewer’s prejudice for the artist’s intent. Why does Curtis need to apologise for having the voice of a BBC newsreader? Would his work really be less slippery if he revoiced it in the style of Jar Jar Binx? (But thisa was all a big lie! Then one mans – him have an big big brainawave!) However despite his tone of voice, Curtis is not a newsreader but an artist. His films are mesmerising and beautiful, but he is no more a political historian than Joe Strummer or Patti Smith.
In what I assume is a nod to balance, “Hypernormalisation” attempts to skewer the artists of the “counterculture” who Curtis insinuates have failed to mount a useful challenge to the authoritarian forces of state control. Bizarrely he appears to single out Patti Smith and Jane Fonda, though gives no reason why these two women should be pilloried above (picking at random) Andy Warhol or Marlon Brando. Here he is as disingenuous as Strummer calling out “No Elvis, No Beatles, No Rolling Stones”. Our artists have not saved us from our politicians but surely the fault lies with anyone who imagined that they might. The deepest tragedy of “I, Daniel Blake” is that Ken Loach was compelled to make it.